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Open Source Replacing Books in Kenyan Schools

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the only-in-kenya dept.

Education 170

ickoonite writes "The BBC is reporting that wi-fi enabled Pocket PCs running open source software are being used as digital textbooks in classrooms in Kenya, where 'real' books are hard to come by. The story says that the scheme, in its trial stages, currently only affects 54 pupils, but all of them are enthralled by the devices - unsurprising in a country where electricity is a scarce commodity. The article does not make it clear what is running on the Pocket PCs, but this seems a wonderful example of how the free and open spirit of open source can make a real difference." A follow-up to a story from March.

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What a great idea (0, Flamebait)

Sexual Asspussy (453406) | more than 8 years ago | (#13223972)

OSS instead of books in Kenya... perfect. Niggers don't read too good, but they sure do know how to steal!

I wonder about the success of this program... (1)

Mad_Rain (674268) | more than 8 years ago | (#13223980)

I wonder how much of the success of this program is based on the fact that there is lack of knowledge about these devices (and subsequently, how to go about breaking them), with electronics being a scarce commodity at all. Perhaps there is also a greater personal responsibility and respect for these educational opportunities, which is reinforced by the culture too.

I hope that these electronic books work out better than they tend to in more "civilized" countries like the US.

Re:I wonder about the success of this program... (1)

rockytriton (896444) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224027)

I'm sure they use pirated software and don't pay for copyrights of the books as well.

Re:I wonder about the success of this program... (1)

vinohradska (713189) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224242)

Maybe, but there are plenty of Books in the Public Domain [gutenberg.org] available.

Re:I wonder about the success of this program... (1)

grazzy (56382) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224075)

Yeah, wouldn't a factory printing books have been a better investment here?

I have a couple of neighbours here (sweden) that are developing a light for usage in faraway villages in africa, they charge during the day in the sunlight, and can then light up the night. However, a slight problem being noticed, is the fact that the africans doesn't want the light on at the night, cause.. its night.

Re:I wonder about the success of this program... (1)

sponger (96171) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224164)

yeah, they might have that whole BUG thing going on at night and the lights probably wont help

Re:I wonder about the success of this program... (1)

Fishstick (150821) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224278)

> Yeah, wouldn't a factory printing books have been a better investment here?

depends on if there are enough readily available, cheap raw materials around (trees).

Re:I wonder about the success of this program... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224444)

In Kenya, just about year round, they get 12 & 12. Twelve hours of day, and twelve hours of night, turning at about 6 or 7 am/pm. Out in the rural areas it's so dark, the milky way really stands out, it's beautiful.

If you've been doing the 12 & 12 all your life, why would you want a light? Night time is sleepy time!

Subsistance farmers who work 16 hours a day (it's the women I'm talking about here - the men just stand around and shoot the breeze) probably don't want to lose ANY precious sleep to modern conveniences.

Irony (1)

dsginter (104154) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224126)

I hope that these electronic books work out better than they tend to in more "civilized" countries like the US.

The irony of the situation is that in more "civilized" countries like the US, corruption takes over and results in textbooks that go through constant revision in order to keep sales up.

I tried to help my wife save some money by purchasing a used text book once. Shortly after class started, the professor admitted that she'd made a mistake on the book and that the students would need to purchase the 9th revision of the book instead of the 8th. Since I had purchased the book on the used market, I could not exchange it. For shits and giggles, I compared the 9th edition with the 8th and found only minor change - mostly just moving page numbers around and swapping the numbers on the chapter questions.

The people responsible for these financial rapes deserve nothing more than to be shot in the face.

Re:I wonder about the success of this program... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224264)

In rural Kenya, they don't have running water, natural gas, or electricity. They use kerosene lanterns for light. But what they do have, and they are lots of them, is cell phones. And with cell phones, they can get some degree of internet access.

I know a pastor in rural Kenya who chares his laptop from his car, and emails us via his cell phone.

Yes it runs Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13223981)


i saw the programme the other day and they specifically mentioned Linux and FOSS was being used

so yes it does run Linux (they didnt mention which distro)

Links etc.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224013)

from the project site itself

http://www.eduvision.or.ke/technology/tech4.html [eduvision.or.ke]

  The eSlates are the end-user terminals of EELS, used by both teachers and students. An eSlate is Linux-based tablet computer, modified to survive in the technologically risky environment that is primary and secondary education. The tablets come in the same form-factor as a current textbook, and have a user-interface custom-designed for computer novices. Data input is done through a stylus on a touch-screen, using a combination of tapping and handwriting recognition. In addition, the bottom of the unit slides out to reveal a small keyboard for longer writing assignments.

Re:Links etc.. (1)

AndreyFilippov (550131) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224333)

"...Furthermore, because our network and software is proprietary, demand for stolen eSlates will be minimal - they simply will not work for uses other than those for which they were designed." :-(

Broken... (1)

HermanAB (661181) | more than 8 years ago | (#13223983)

Cool for today, but what about tomorrow when all the newfangled gizmos are broken?

Re:Broken... (1)

ThosLives (686517) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224313)

Amen to that. Reminds me of a quote I read somewhere, probably here on /.:
"A map with a bullet hole through it is still a map. A GPS with a bullet through it is a paperweight."
In a country where "electricity is scarce" I'd rather have a paper book, where if part of it is damaged the rest of it is still usable. Sure, it's more difficult (i.e., you're better to make a completely new one) to change the content of a physical book, but the book has a much higher robustness factor. For instance, think about what happens when you represent the letter 'A' as a single binary number. You change 1 bit out of 8 at random and you can turn that 'A' into a '?' or something. If you have 9 x 5 grid with dark and light spots that makes the glyph 'A', and you swap the same percentage of squares at random from dark to light (6 squares out of 45) and you can probably still recognize that it's the letter 'A'.

Ok, that's similar to, but not exactly the same, as physical books versus electronic books. Perhaps simply recognizing that the book is self-contained, whereas the tablet PC requires media (the binary states of something), the translator (the system and I/O devices), and a power source. Simple reliability classes will tell you that in this instance, more parts is not more reliable, and probably has a lot more hidden cost than for which an account has been made.

Re:Broken... (1)

HermanAB (661181) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224526)

Africa is also an incredibly harsh continent. There is an old joke about an experiment with 3 canon balls, 3 people of different cultural backgrounds and a hermit cell in a monastery. One of the test subjects managed to break one ball and lose another - I rather won't recant the story here, but there is lot of truth in it... ;-)

missing the point, perhaps? (4, Insightful)

ComputerSherpa (813913) | more than 8 years ago | (#13223986)

Does it seem to anyone that squabbling over the operating system these devices are running is a little pointless? Step back and look at this for a second: A bunch of Kenyan kids have just been given a really big gift. That's really cool. Let it be.

Re:missing the point, perhaps? (1)

FLAGGR (800770) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224202)

Except closed source OSes tend to cost money, I'm guessing the main factor that let this be (and its a real good thing(tm)) is the fact that its running free software, which can be customized to the situation, and is obviously much cheaper than buying the WindowsCE licenses...

Re:missing the point, perhaps? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224422)

As far as I know you don't have to buy the Windows CE licenses separately because the OS comes built-in with Pocket PCs. So for all practical purposes, in buying the devices, the OS licenses are already paid for.

Re:missing the point, perhaps? (1)

natrius (642724) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224582)

How is it missing the point? Did you read the part of the article that mentioned the open source nature of it? "They are wi-fi enabled and run on licence-free open source software to keep costs down." The only reason they recieved this gift is because people allowed their software to be freely used and distributed. That is the point.

So what you're saying is (1)

commodoresloat (172735) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224738)

Don't look a gift horse in the kernel.

Hmmm... (1)

Lord Marlborough (897605) | more than 8 years ago | (#13223988)

Now, if we can manage some open-source food, perhaps we can actually feel better about ourselves with regards to sub-saharan Africa.

Re:Hmmm... (1)

MisterMurphy (899535) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224228)

Feeding the head is as important as feeding the body. Greater education leads to greater abilities and self esteem, which leads not only to employability but the self-awareness to demand fair wages. When this happens, it (hopefully) leads to a cascade effect across the society, increasing standards of living.

If I recall my African Studies classes correctly, hunger in sub-Saharan Africa is due to poor transportation infrastructure, and also is used as a weapon. Famine, created by regimes to control a discontent populace, or kill rivals. So maybe open-source trains, or open-source revolutionaries. The food exists; it is getting it there, and making sure it gets to the hungry.

Re:Hmmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224240)

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach him to fish and you feed him for the rest of his life.

I watched that program (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13223993)

The teachers said they don't have electricity to charge them, they break too easily, are too complicated.

The minister said it was a wasted test not suited to his country.

The engineer said books can fall in puddles too, (as though that breaks a book) and in future they would make them with more rubber so less likely to break. He also seemed to think books can only be used once whereas these can be used again and again....

If we don't use them in the west why would they want them in the third world?

Re:I watched that program (1)

zakezuke (229119) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224752)

If we don't use them in the west why would they want them in the third world?

Because to deploy something new in a region that doesn't have much in the way of an existing infrastructure is easier than trying change a deeply rooted society. Further, given they don't have much in the way of text books to begin with they are the most likely people to accept pocketpc books in lue of regular books as something is always better than nothing.

Further... have you ever tried to ship books? Books are huge, heavy, bulky bits of compressed wood. A single hardcover edition can weigh in at 3 to 5 pounds. Shipping a crap load of pocketPCs that in turn can be updated without shipping anything is strangly appealing for nations off the main shipping routes.

For me to ship one 4 pound book from the US to Kenya would cost a minium of $20.00... 17 4 pound books $220, and 68 (4 packages under 70lbs) 4 pound books $880. Assuming three classes that's $2640 in shipping costs plus the cost of 204 4 pound books which are likely to cost between $4000 and $8000 best case scenero for new books, even used books the $100 per student yearly is easy to believe. You can easily see why this gift was accepted... saves students a ton of money.

Maybe fun for the 54... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224001)

There is no way that Kenya can afford this for their entire educational system, or even the Nairobi system. Fun on a small scale, impossible in practice.

Hmm (1)

IcarusMoth (631872) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224002)

You know MS calls their Portable OS PocketPC. So my guess is that they run PocketPC2003, by Microsoft

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224204)

yup that fits the description of OPEN SOURCE.

wow you are a fucking genius!

Re:Hmm (1)

IcarusMoth (631872) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224523)

I know I'm not supposed to feed the trolls, but... I gave consideration to the fact that MS is not OSS, but while the OS might be closed source, the software used to distribute and manage the books and grading might be. Sort of how you can run Firefox or Gaim or Thunderbird or Blender3D or your mom on a Windows XP box. Word?

Re:Hmm (1)

aardwolf64 (160070) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224261)

Microsoft has never called their portable OS "PocketPC". A long time ago, it was "Windows for Pocket PCs", but the current version is "Windows Mobile 2003".

Re:Hmm (1)

IcarusMoth (631872) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224377)

Maybe, but a quick Google Search [google.com] indicates that the units running "Windows Moblie 2003", are commonly called "Pocket PC 2003" units. Also a bit of anecdotal evidence; when the one that my job gave me boots up (you know the time before I start emulating NES games) it says Pocket PC 2003. By which I'm not saying you are wrong, I'm just saying.

Cool, but... (1)

RandoX (828285) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224009)

...you can't eat a Pocket PC.

Well, I guess you could...

Re:Cool, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224328)

you could eat it but do you think you could shit it?

Re:Cool, but... (1)

deathcloset (626704) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224657)

true, but you can't eat a fishing pole either.

Hi-tech replacement? (2, Insightful)

PopeOptimusPrime (875888) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224016)

Hmmm... They don't have the ultra low-tech basics, so we replace them with relatively hi-tech, high maintenance substitutes... Why not just spend the money on textbooks, which rarely break or get BSODs.

Re:Hi-tech replacement? (1)

flooey (695860) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224200)

I wonder if there's some reason that books aren't as easily obtainable. Perhaps shipping things into the area is very expensive, and a textbook (or, more likely, a set of several textbooks on different subjects) would weigh a lot more and be a lot bigger than a single PDA, and thus cost a lot more to ship. It's also possible that books have to be replaced often there for some reason (they get used for kindling, insects eat them, it's hard to keep them safe from the rain, whatever), so a PDA might have a longer lifetime if properly taken care of.

Re:Hi-tech replacement? (1)

dannyd933 (904582) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224231)

buying 100 textbooks would cost A LOT more than buying one pocket PC and loading 100 free e-books.
as for textbooks rarely breaking, that is where my 9th grade Spanish teacher and I never saw eye to eye.

Possible opportunity... (3, Insightful)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224020)


From TFS:
The BBC is reporting that wi-fi enabled Pocket PCs running open source software are being used as digital textbooks in classrooms in Kenya, where 'real' books are hard to come by.
So real books are difficult to obtain, but Pocket PCs are plentiful?

Looks like I need to take a trip to Kenya with a couple suitcases full of books...I smell a trading opportunity here.. ^_^

Re:Possible opportunity... (1)

sh0rtie (455432) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224060)


actually they mentioned in the program that books where approx £100+ per year per student so the eSlates where actually cheaper to run (power came from solar) presumably they got a deal for bulk purchasing from HP on the iPaqs (plus its good PR for HP)

Re:Possible opportunity... (1)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224439)

You can print a 300 page textbook for 10pounds without any problem, too (if you dont need fancy printing quality..). And that would give 10 books per student and year that will still be there the year after...

Re:Possible opportunity... (1)

deervark (904586) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224121)

I think the real oppurtunity is to open up a pawn shop next to the school where they can trade their pda's for food and guns.

Re:Possible opportunity... (1)

Alex P Keaton in da (882660) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224201)

So real books are difficult to obtain, but Pocket PCs are plentiful?
Uh- not to be sarcastic, or insult you (you are excused if you are in high school and don't have to buy books)- but did you go to college? We are talking textbooks, not Penguin Classics. I have bought many $90-$250 textbooks for school back when. Textbooks used in grade school classes are also very pricey. More than E-books. Plus, textbooks are not as useful after a few years (some subjects more than others), so with e books thay can be updated. Plus, if you get the materials (e.g. e books, software) donated, many times FedEX or UPS or DHL donates the freight- and they will be more likely to donate service to ship 100 8 oz e-books than 100 3 pound textbooks.
As far as the power- not being a dick, but why cant we send them little pedal or crank powered generators for their e-books....

Re:Possible opportunity... (1)

Karma_fucker_sucker (898393) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224310)

I know what you're saying. But what really pissed me off was that I could get the exact same information as in a $100+ textbook from a publisher that charged $40+. Think I'm full of shit? Well compare your typical programming textbook that you'd have to buy in a CS program with a book from O'Reilly. Yeah, yeah, it's not a "CS" textbook, but the information is identical. And any other information thatmay be needed would be a great research project for the students - free from the InterNet.

AND I'm sure there's some program for third world countries to get textbooks for FAR cheaper than those of us in the US.

Re:Possible opportunity... (1)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224494)

The world is not the US, and in other countries, textbooks arent rediciously overpriced...
(i know it for fact from physics, where the most expensive book i bought was the Tipler (which was about 90$ equivalent, for 1200 pages in Din A4). Most textbooks are between 50-70Euro.

Re:Possible opportunity... (1)

Karma_fucker_sucker (898393) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224347)

IT's the NGOs. Read this book:

Adventure Capitalist by Jim Rogers [amazon.com] . The liberal types will not like him and neither will the conservative types, but he does have some interesting opservations.

-Fucker

Let me get this straight... (2, Insightful)

Mose250 (724946) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224021)

Real books are hard to come by...but wifi-enabeled Pocket PCs are easy? I'm all for technology applications, but a book is a fraction of the cost of a PDA (yes, even a textbook) - and more durable, too.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

HermanAB (661181) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224071)

Yup, woulda been really purty if those WiFi adaptors had a 10,000km range...

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

SeekerDarksteel (896422) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224098)

A fraction? Have you seen how much textbooks cost nowadays? I mean technically you are right though, 1/2 is a fraction.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

Compholio (770966) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224103)

Real books are hard to come by...but wifi-enabeled Pocket PCs are easy? I'm all for technology applications, but a book is a fraction of the cost of a PDA (yes, even a textbook) - and more durable, too.

When textbooks are 100-300 USD a piece and PDAs are 100-700 USD I can see where it might be preferrable to go with an inexpensive PDA if you have a good way of getting the material to put on it.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224263)

How the hell is a textbook $100??
This is not college material. I'll write them some damn algebra textbooks for $10 each, christ.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

Mose250 (724946) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224648)

I think that everybody's missing the point - the price of a textbook isn't driven by the printing costs; it's the content that's so pricey. Somebody still has to research and write this material, and putting it on the PDA is still going to cost a lot of money.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

Relic of the Future (118669) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224292)

A few years ago (while still in college) I got a used Jornada 820 for $50 and a used wireless card for $15 (I use it primarily as a portal term; it's lighter than a "real" laptop, with better battery life and still a full keyboard). ONE of my textbooks cost me $190 that semester (had to have the new edition too, grumblegrumble).

In short, I believe it. Haven't RTFA, but I'm sure they're not using $1,000 PDAs.

Re:Let me get this straight... (1)

guaigean (867316) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224343)

Yes, ONE textbook is cheaper than a PDA. But 2-3 and you've passed the margin. The big deal here is that these Pocket PC's can hold far more knowledge than a single textbook, and the cost becomes more and more beneficial as more e-books are added.

mo3 Down (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224036)

Great intentions.. (1)

dannyd933 (904582) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224042)

but will it work? I work at an international relief NGO and supplying textbooks has always been a huge barrier for education in Africa. Maybe this will be a key test for open source in developing countries. An issue with developing countries and free services is that often these poor people will sell the "gifts" on a black market or steal someone else's in order to get food and water.

Maybe a way to end this would be for Microsoft to patent the taking of free goods and services and reselling them for personal gain.

Re:Great intentions.. (1)

Eugene (6671) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224110)

it's hard to supply because of the weight and bulk?

Re:Great intentions.. (1)

dannyd933 (904582) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224187)

Yes, and textbooks also cost a lot of money and are outdated quickly (you can put hundreds of textbooks on a handheld pc).

Wha? (2, Insightful)

daeley (126313) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224046)

I'm as big a fan of open source as the next geek, but I'm not sure the connection between open-source software and book replacement is really clear. Buy the units, and they come with an OS and (probably) reader software. It sounds like the title here should be "Technology Aiding Literacy in Kenyan Schools."

Re:Wha? (1)

dannyd933 (904582) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224117)

read the article. "They are wi-fi enabled and run on licence-free open source software to keep costs down." The kenyans are obviously not buying the handhelds. The open-source is helping the company supply as many hnadhelds as possible.

Re:Wha? (1)

charlieo88 (658362) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224123)

Perhaps they mean that the texts are open source as opposed to the technology dislaying them. I didn't see a mention either way in the article when I skimmed it though.

Re:Wha? (1)

natrius (642724) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224613)

I'm as big a fan of open source as the next geek, but I'm not sure the connection between open-source software and book replacement is really clear.

Textbooks are expensive. Open source software is cheap. Pocket PC hardware costs as much as one or two textbooks, so if you can replace a whole bookshelf with a Pocket PC, that's quite an accomplishment. Paying for software to run on it would double the price.

good idea zonk (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224051)

post the link to the somewhat related previous story so as when the usual idiots turn up moaning about "dupes", they can be modded down with greater efficiency.

Marketing (1)

TheStonepedo (885845) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224059)

This is nothing but MS doing "humanitarian" work to gain even more exposure. This is like giving out sports cars because they're short a few bicycles. All the world sees is "Look dear, something is improving. Microsoft did that."

Right. Except (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224177)

Microsoft has NOTHING to do with this. They're HP iPAQs, they run Linux.
Or did you post to the wrong article? M o o o r o o o n ;)

Objections/Solutions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224062)

There are two objections to this tech in the story. (Raised by a teacher)

1) The devices are delicate.
There are several hardened versions of PDAs available. Failing the availability of hardened versions there are Rhino cases & what not.

2) Lack of electricity for recharging.
Uh, solar powered rechargers?

C'mon geeks, make this work. As the ghost of Xmas Present warned when Scrooge asked him about the urchins hiding beneath his cloak..
"This is Ignorance, the other is Want. Fear them both".
 

Wi-fi enabled? (1)

cribdasig (902552) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224074)

In related news, a suspicious looking man was arrested earlier this morning after parking himself in front of a man's hut. Local police report it as the first known case of wardrving in Kenya.

The PDA's run Linux... (1)

Observador (224372) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224077)

from eduvision's site [eduvision.or.ke] :
The eSlates are the end-user terminals of EELS, used by both teachers and students. An eSlate is Linux-based tablet computer, modified to survive in the technologically risky environment that is primary and secondary education. The tablets come in the same form-factor as a current textbook, and have a user-interface custom-designed for computer novices. Data input is done through a stylus on a touch-screen, using a combination of tapping and handwriting recognition. In addition, the bottom of the unit slides out to reveal a small keyboard for longer writing assignments.

Why is it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224082)

That so many people pronounce it "Keen-yan" instead of "Ken-yan" like the word is spelled?

Of course (1)

LupeSpywalper (713932) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224099)

these PDA's are quickly filled with "open source" copies of Harry Potter 1-6.

Wonderful, but... (3, Insightful)

pomo monster (873962) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224115)

It's definitely cool that children in developing nations are using computers to improve their prospects, but too often in these sorts of discussions the notion is advanced that computers (and the internet) are just what developing nations need, as regards technology.

In fact, a much better investment is in mobile phones and mobile networks. Even the cheapest handsets encourage kids to learn to read and write, not to mention gain proficiency in handling technology. At the same time, adults can use mobile phones to find employment, find affordable goods, negotiate deals, conduct business. Mobile phones integrate themselves into daily life much more easily than PCs, and their impact is thus felt much faster and wider. If the free flow of information enables a market to work efficiently, then what better technology to kickstart the economy than mobile phones?

Here are a few articles with the hard numbers pitting mobile phones against PCs.
http://news.mongabay.com/2005/0712-rhett_butler.ht ml [mongabay.com]
http://usinfo.state.gov/af/Archive/2005/May/17-488 286.html [state.gov]
http://www.economist.com/printedition/displaystory .cfm?Story_ID=3742817 [economist.com]
http://www.economist.com/business/displayStory.cfm ?story_id=4157618 [economist.com]

While it's certainly heartening that open source software is having a positive effect in poverty-stricken Africa, it's also important for aidgivers to note that dollar for dollar, computers aren't the best use of limited funds.

Re:Wonderful, but... (1)

xs650 (741277) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224285)

In fact, a much better investment is in mobile phones and mobile networks. Even the cheapest handsets encourage kids to learn to read and write

U R SO RITE

Re:Wonderful, but... (1)

pomo monster (873962) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224349)

Well, at least they'll be able to communicate with American teens.

Battery Life (1)

rlp (11898) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224128)

My experience with WiFi enabled PDA's is that they exhaust the batteries really really fast. How long will a student be able to read before the 'Low Battery' message pops up?

Re:Battery Life (1)

Pxtl (151020) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224458)

Don't need to run wi-fi 24-7. Can just use it once per day to synch.

Textbooks ARE cheap (1)

MirrororriM (801308) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224140)

Maybe they can use their new PDA's to surf over to halfoff.com [halfoff.com] and buy some cheap books, eh?

Re:Textbooks ARE cheap (1)

mboos (700155) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224209)

You've probably never been to a university bookstore recently. I've had to spend more than $500 each term on textbooks. I could easily get some kind of handheld for that price.

I tried (unsuccessfully) to buy used textbooks, but the practice of publishers in recent years to issue a new edition every two years makes that impossible.

Re:Textbooks ARE cheap (1)

A.Chwunbee (838021) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224637)

"I tried (unsuccessfully) to buy used textbooks, but the practice of publishers in recent years to issue a new edition every two years makes that impossible."

Every TWO years? So are people at your college always failing and having to do the resitts?

Yeah, great idea... (1)

TheSneak (904279) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224143)

Great, maybe they can sell it on ebay for some money for food clothing and medicine.

Nice to see governments thinking of the children. Yeah right...

Next up on the voting block: Bill 235, Giving gold rolexes to homeless people who lack wristwatches.

Re:Yeah, great idea... (1)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224184)

The more you send them free food, the more you damage their agriculture industry.

The more you send them clothes, the more jobs you take from their tailors and textile workers.

They don't need handouts, they need real economic reform, and education has to be at the center of that.

The world doesn't need welfare nations.

Re:Yeah, great idea... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224232)

So they send PDAs? How about qualified people to train teachers? How about fixing up their schools? Those seem a bit more pertinant than E-Books.

The world doesn't need welfare nations, but we're happy to set up shop there and get unskilled labour for 1/1000 the price of back home. Ironic.

Re:Yeah, great idea... (1)

Anonymous Custard (587661) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224452)

The more you send them free food, the more you damage their agriculture industry.
The more you send them clothes, the more jobs you take from their tailors and textile workers.
They don't need handouts, they need real economic reform, and education has to be at the center of that.
The world doesn't need welfare nations.


The more you send them medicine, the more you damage their pharmaceutical industry?

Tough love doesn't help anyone during a famine or epidemic. It just gives people like you an excuse to be selfish.

Re:Yeah, great idea... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224567)

His point, which seems to have flown over your head at supersonic speed, is that fixing today's famine with a crapload of free food only increases populations and sows the seeds for tomorrow's famine, and the next, and the next. Until you reform the conditions that create famines, national welfare only increases long-term suffering.

I call selfish those who produce an increase in total misery so that they can feel they're "doing something".

Technology Literacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224162)

This probably only works because these kids don't know about all of the interesting ways to waste time on computing devices. ( Games, IM, email, reading slashdot, etc.) I'd much rather use pocketpc instead of a textbook for these reasons.

Where are the electronic books coming from? (1)

slapout (93640) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224170)

Ummm...that's great and all, but where are they getting the E-books? I know that there are free ebooks out there, but aren't most specialised texts sold for money? And protected by DRM? Where are they getting these from?

Re:Where are the electronic books coming from? (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224348)

I would hope they and their teachers are writing the books, with local references and stuff they really need.
Once one book is written, with electronic books, everyone can share it. Try doing that with dead trees. That is why Kenya needs eBooks, rather than the equivalent number of books written by foreigners. (Which they get as well on an eBook) Also, they can start with a standard text, like a math book, and customize the word problems to fit local conditions.

"If you know the alphabet A-M, you can teach the alphabet A-M" -- Ruth Stout

The e-books (1)

jurt1235 (834677) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224171)

Are those books opensource too, you can have the software for windows or linux (or any other), but the content of the books is another precisely copyrighted area with very little grey areas.

"Willing guinea pigs" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224178)

Fifty-four 11-year-old students are willing guinea pigs in an extraordinary experiment aimed at using technology to deliver education across the continent.

Let's leave the fat Italians out of this.

What's with the OSS cheerleading ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224210)

, but this seems a wonderful example of how the free and open spirit of open source can make a real difference."

And if M$ had donated 57 PocketPC units to the students, then it would have been an example of M$ just trying to indoctrinate another set of future customers? The parent posters statement is a load of crap, and just goes to show how daft fanboys on both sides basically don't have a clue about the real world.

Open Source Hippie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224236)

The article does not make it clear what is running on the Pocket PCs, but this seems a wonderful example of how the free and open spirit of open source can make a real difference.

What kind of tree-hugging hippie crap is that? The "free and open spirit of open source"? Have you named this spirit?

Hmmm... It doesn't say what is running on the Pocket PCs. I'd be willing to bet it's Windows Mobile 2003. Stick that up your open source hole.

But... (1)

Evangelion (2145) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224252)


Do they run flash [weebls-stuff.com] ?

Trickle down economics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224272)

The real question is how many of these will end up in the hands of corrupt government officials.

Brilliant! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13224273)

Yay! Provide expensive electronic devices as replacements for paper books in a country with no electricity and very little tech culture! Let's scale this up! Let's give all Kenyan kids Pocket PCs instead of books! Never mind that they are difficult to read in sunlight, are expensive, cannot be recharged at home, are fragile, will probably be damaged or destroyed after a few years, cannot be produced locally, and are from an alien culture.

Books? Bah! Cheap pieces of crap! Books are a backward technology! Any nitwit with a crappy printing press can print them. Hell, there are probably thousands of printing presses of various sorts in and around Kenya right now. Kenya's low-tech economy is probably flooded with cheap books made of newsprint with flimsy covers. Kenyans are undoubtedly sick of them, and have them cluttering up closets, rucksacks, and spare surfaces in their homes. God knows how many pathetic companies have been printing books throughout Africa, all of them with boring, familiar, and too easily understood content steeped in local culture.

Instead of wasting money printing updated school textbooks locally and giving them away to students, they should import cool new Pocket PCs by the tens of thousands and replace them whenever they are lost, stolen, damaged, or become otherwise unusable.

...But who will give the books away for free? (1)

CorporalKlinger (871715) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224306)

It's great that the software is free - but the devices certainly aren't and neither is the intellectual material being displayed on them. Additionally, I don't know of a single book that when you drop it on the ground, it costs $200+ to replace. It's a nice idea, but there's a reason people still prefer to read books on paper, even in the USA where such devices in schools could be commonplace. You never get a system error with a book or run out of batteries reading a book on a plane or bus. As long as there is light to read it, a book can enlighten a mind.

How open is this system? (1)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224335)

I get the impression that only Eduvision can send updates to these devices. Maybe the reason they are so cheap is that they are loss leaders to get Kenyans into a vendor lock in. Could end users reflash with a new kernal for example? If it were an open system, there should be some documented protocol for updates, and a spec for the platform, and they would have mentioned it as a selling point. If it's closed, they'll keep quiet about this sort of thing, and make sure the boot rom will only load digitally signed software kernels, in which case the 'it runs Linux' line is highly disingenuous.

Plus as TFA points out, rechargeable Pocket PC's are not that practical in a village with no electrical power. Come to think of it, what happens when the batteries wear out - slim PDAs usually have Lithium Ion batteries that have a rather short life. Batteries are pretty expensive in Africa too, hence the idea of a wind up radio.

Still, it's good to see that the minister is skeptical, it's all to common for third world countries to get suckered into trend schemes that are cripplingly expensive in the long run because the politicians have been paid off by the vendor.

Seems slightly flawed and overkill.... (1)

ShyGuy91284 (701108) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224460)

These things have "steal me" written all over them. Every small school (less then 600 students) would have at least a few (and most likely more) stolen a year if they were used in US schools, and I'd imagine with them being as rare as they are there, they would be a huge target for theft both by some students, and by adults. I think books from here that are "old" should be donated to them. Perhaps it wouldn't work well due to public schools having somewhat dated text books in use as is, but at least for semi-higher education, I'd imagine plenty of people that still give their $100 books to their University book store (Yes, I'm well aware you can get much more selling them online to another student, but I don't think many bother) for $10 would much rather they go to good use then be resold by the original seller for $80.

The teachers should be writing the books (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224471)

The books should be written locally by the teachers.
There's also many good references that are free on the web that could be downloaded to one book when the teacher takes a trip to Nairobi, then customized and shared with the students in the villages.
Even slashdotters could write books for them. Once there's one good math textbook available, they could produce all they need.
This is why Keyna need eBooks. Not because it's cool technology. Because it's better technology than dead trees.

"Once you know the alphabet A-M, you can teach the alphabet A-M" -- Ruth Stout

How many books.. (1)

OreoCookie (814421) | more than 8 years ago | (#13224719)

could they have bought with the money they spent on PPC's?
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